There were warning signs ahead of Sri Lanka mudslide: survivors

Koslanda (Sri Lanka) (AFP) - Sniffer dogs were deployed Friday to search for mudslide victims in Sri Lanka as survivors said they had seen warning signs of the disaster, such as cracks in the ground and livestock fleeing.

An estimated 100 people are still listed as missing, according to the national Disaster Management Centre (DMC), two days after dozens of tin-roofed homes were buried under tonnes of mud at the Meeriyabedda tea estate, 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of the capital.

Military officers supervising the massive rescue operation said only a handful of bodies had been found and there was scant hope of finding anyone alive.

Survivors have recounted how drinking water streams turned muddy, cracks appeared in the ground and cattle and goats started running down the mountain slope just before tragedy struck.

"I shouted to our parents to hurry... I saw my mother close the front door and at that moment, a huge mound of earth crashed onto our house, Gajani Ravichandra, 14, told AFP.

"It all happened right in front of our eyes. All I could do was scream and scream," she said at a temporary shelter. Her parents perished but her grandparents and brother survived.

Gajani's brother Suresh Kumar, 12, said he saw an unusual sight of cattle and goats running down a slope just before the landslide.

A six-year-old girl was lost in the mudslide as she walked to school with her older brother who narrowly escaped, officials said, adding around 85 students were among 227 people who escaped the mudslide.

Some people lost entire families. One driver recounted how his wife, two sons, daughter-in-law and a six-month-old baby girl had been swallowed by the mud.

Shanthi Selvadurai, 23, said she was trying to flee the mudslide when she suddenly found herself buried to the neck.

"My mother managed to get to safety. She came back with two men who dug me out," Selvadurai said, nursing a leg injury.

Textile store worker Vijaya Kantha, 23, said he saw danger signs of unstable ground and rushed back to collect his identity card from home.

But just before he reached his dwelling, he heard a loud noise and saw his house swallowed by mud.

The region's top military officer, Major General Mano Perera, who is supervising the recovery efforts, said sniffer dogs had indicated several sites where people might be buried.

"In some places, we will have to dig 20-to-30 feet (six-to-nine meters) to remove the new layer of soil," Perera told AFP.

"Rains and soggy conditions are impeding our progress, but we will keep this recovery effort going," he said.

Several countries, including India and the United States, have offered help.

More than 1,200 people living in neighbouring tea plantations, have sheltered in two schools fearing more mudslides in the picturesque, but geographically unstable tea-growing mountain region, officials said.

Sri Lanka, a tropical island at the foot of India, is prone to weather-related disasters -- especially during the monsoon season when the rains are often welcomed by farmers.

If the death toll does reach three figures, the disaster would be the country's worst since the December 2004 tsunami when 31,000 people died.